Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Cozy Mystery Review: Shooting By the Sea

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Title: Shooting By the Sea (A Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery)
Author: Ellen Jacobson
Publication Info: 2020 by Ellen Jacobson.
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Mollie McGhie attends the grand opening of her friend’s nail salon, she’s looking forward to getting a manicure and sipping on champagne. The event is going great until Mollie discovers a dead body nearby and her friend’s brother is arrested for murder.

Mollie agrees to help clear his name. During the course of her investigation, she has to do some crazy things including auditioning for a game show, giving a pedicure to the local chief of police, and teaching her cat how to play the ukulele.

Can Mollie get to the truth and find out who the real murderer is?

Shooting by the Sea is the fifth book in the light, humorous, and original Mollie McGhie cozy sailing mystery series. If you like kooky characters, adorable cats, and plenty of chocolate, you’ll love this cozy mystery. Grab Shooting by the Sea today and laugh out loud from the first page to the last.

Spoiler Alert: You’ll be humming Elvis tunes to yourself after reading this book.

My Review:

In the interests of full disclosure: Ellen Jacobson is a writing associate, and I have read draft versions of other of novels. Nonetheless, I purchased this book of my own will and consider this to be an honest review.

The Mollie McGhie series is, as advertised, a light-hearted mystery series featuring pretty much zero gore and a lot of humor. Sometimes the books verge on the absurd--in a totally good way! I enjoy the characters and their interactions, and the strongly portrayed community of Coconut Cove, which could almost make me think Florida would be a nice place to live (Ms. Jacobson doesn't seem to have noticed the humidity...).

This story is a well-assembled mystery, with plenty of clues pointing both at and away from the culprit. While I had a pretty clear idea what had gone on, it was great to see the way Mollie uncovered the evidence. The characters of Mollie and her husband, Scooter, have been nicely developed and moved out of the realm of cartoons to become humorous, but real people, a development it has been fun to watch over the course of the series.

My Recommendation:

I think the Mollie McGhie series is great beach reading, and this one is a good addition to the collection. It makes no great demands on the reader, but offers some laughs and good entertainment.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased a copy of Shooting By the Sea of my own volition and chose freely to write a review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


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Friday, April 23, 2021

Home again, and a Friday Flash

I'm home from the Grand Canyon with thousands of photos to edit, and a single piece of flash fiction to share.

I wrote this story for our rafting group, and specifically for Ben Whitaker, one of our 7 amazing crew. Why Ben? Because one day, after repeated drenchings, I told him I was going to take him up a dry wash and leave him there. And so I did. Of course, I could as easily have treated any of the guides the same way--repeated washings in Colorado River water is a part of running the Canyon. Ben just got first dibs.

The story is, I hope, comprehensible to those not on the trip, but is especially meant for those who were; forgive the hint of an inside joke. For the non-Canyon folks, a few notes: my trip was with Arizona Raft Adventures, aka AZRA. The "groover" is the toilet. And the food was fantastic and abundant, with no gumbo in sight (not that there's anything wrong with gumbo), and none of our guides dodged the cooking!

Without further ado, I present:

River Revenge

“Where’s Ben?”

The question ran through camp like wind-blown sand, and no one had an answer. Few heard John’s added question, “and where’s the bag of gorp?” It didn’t matter. The intrepid, though sodden, river guide had vanished. It was his night to cook dinner, too. Rumblings of dismay echoed from the canyon walls.

Dodging campers dripping and irate over the repeated drenchings he had given them and ungrateful for the skill with which he’d kept them from unplanned swims, Ben had fled. Last seen wandering aimlessly toward the north end of camp, a bag of something tucked casually under one arm, he had vanished no one knew where.

When Rebecca commented on seeing Ben sneaking off with the gorp, everyone relaxed. “Gone off to recharge his social batteries,” most agreed.

“Gone off to gorge on snacks,” John muttered. “He hates gumbo night.”

Ben did hate gumbo night. He was also tired of being wet, and of taking the blame when the Colorado River got pissed off at all the boats bouncing so lightly over its surface, or of people speaking lightly of the big rapids. He was worn out with explaining the difference between rowing the rapids well and staying dry.

Plus, he liked gorp.

Now, a long time later, he was thoroughly dry. The gorp was gone and he was thinking fond thoughts even of gumbo. It was time to go back.

Unfortunately, Ben had no idea where he was, or where “back” was. When he turned to follow his tracks to camp, the ceaselessly blowing wind had eradicated all trace of his passage.


Meanwhile, with the dinner hour looming and the cook AWOL, Trip Leader Lorna had efficiently organized her crew. Bekah remained to fix the meal single-handed, in a whirlwind of chopping and cooking. Several campers tried to offer help, but were blown out of the kitchen by the gale-force slipstream of her activity. Lorna led the rest of the guides in the rescue mission, Jon and John muttering about gorp thieves while Jed worried he’d miss the bat count and Matt worried he’d miss dinner.

Not over-fond of gumbo herself, Rebecca chose to follow the searchers, announcing it was a perfect opportunity to gather material for her books. She didn’t mention that she’d seen someone follow Ben. Was that hooded and dripping figure headed for the groover—or for revenge?

Behind Rebecca, unnoticed by the highly focused seeker of stories, several more campers chose to eschew gumbo in favor of glory. Mike, Jen, and Amanda, their duel of wits drawn to a truce for the time being, found the first clue. One dropped peanut, not yet snagged by mouse or raven, suggested to them that Lorna & Co. were searching up the wrong gully. They turned right at the confluence of two dry washes.

Rebecca glanced back in time to see the Alaskans turn off, and decided to climb the ridge between the washes and watch both parties for hints on how to construct a search.


Far up the right wash, Ben had received a revelation in his time of need. Only one way led to the river: down. Turning to follow through on this excellent insight, he wondered if he had the strength for the return trip. So far from the river he felt himself desiccated and thinned, like the cast-off skin of a bored snake.

Suddenly, as he staggered with hunger and thirst, he found himself confronted by a figure in shades and an AZRA hoodie.

“Who? What?” Ben couldn’t form the words, his lips drained of all moisture by the salty gorp. His knees gave way.

The unknown figure pulled a high caliber weapon from behind its back, took aim, and fired.

A heavy stream of water caught Ben in the face as he fell. He opened his mouth, the life-saving liquid rehydrating his parched river-rat skin, and felt life returning as he knelt, lapping the water that ran down his face.

The weapon empty, the unknown assailant turned, still silent, and bounded down the gully.

Only Rebecca saw the hooded figure mix with the other campers enjoying happy hour. She watched Ben stagger into the arms of Jed and Matt (who reminded him he was supposed to be on KP). And she saw the three Alaskans, stymied by a pour-off even they couldn’t climb, slink back into camp seconds before Bekah called for dinner. Only then did she, too, slip back into camp, notebook in hand.

Taking stock of the dire situation, Lorna breached her secret stash of good Scotch and began pouring. A half hour later, everyone loved Bekah’s gumbo. And no one, not even Ben, cared who had pursued him with a vengeful super-soaker.

But John cut off Ben’s access to the snacks, forcing him to subsist merely on three massive meals a day for the rest of the trip.

And Rebecca slipped Beth a bag of warm bath water with a whispered “thank you” for a revenge well executed, as she reconverted the high-power watergun into an innocent pair of telescoping trekking poles.


My photos haven't been edited yet, but I've got a couple to illustrate the story.

Up a dry wash...

And down the wet rapids.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Friday Flashback: Xavier Xanthum's first appearance.

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, made his debut during my first April "A to Z Blogging Challenge," when I needed a post for "X". That was in 2013. Since then, I have written and shared about 18 more XX stories, and have a particular fondness for the occasionally hapless explorer. Some of what's in this one I'd totally forgotten and may not be so true in later stories.


Xavier and the X-Ray Eyes

Xavier Xanthum explored space.  With his Arcturian Warp drive, he’d been doing it long enough that time and age no longer had any meaning for him.  Twice he had passed through random uncertainty fields, and met himself coming.  Once he’d hit something strange, and the next ship he met told him a hundred years had passed.  He'd aged two days.

After that one, he’d sold his ship to an antique dealer for enough to buy one of the new-fangled ships with an even better faster-than-light drive, one that was guaranteed to keep him from ever being stranded in a gravity well or adrift between galaxies, both of which had happened to him in the past.

All of which is to say he'd seen plenty of weird things in his indeterminately long life.  None of them prepared him for the eyeballs.

The eyeballs first appeared in the galley.  That was where Xavier usually saw odd things, because this new ship’s robo-kitchen had some very strange menu items.  He didn't think anything of it until he'd had a good sleep and awakened to find the eyes still watching him.

He didn't know then what they could do.  He only knew that there was now some kind of alien--something--sharing his ship.  He supposed he might have picked it up in that last singularity, or maybe it--they?--came aboard from one of the planets he'd visited.  Maybe the one that he'd thought was uninhabited.  It would have been easy to miss a modest population of disembodied eyeballs.

After a week he began to notice that he was seeing things.  Not seeing things the way he did when the robo-kitchen got too imaginative.  That made him see things that were not there.  Now he was seeing things that were there, but not here.  He called it X-ray vision, but it wasn't really.  Not like the kind he'd dreamed of as a kid, that let you see through clothes and into locked safes.

But he found that he could see whatever the eyeballs were seeing, even if they were in a different part of the ship.  And they could see a wider spectrum than he could.  He stopped burning himself on his coffee, because he could see when it was too hot.  If, that is, the eyes happened to look at the coffee.

It was when the turbo-warp booster started acting up that Xavier got serious about the need to communicate with the eyes.  He couldn't fit even his face into the service tube, so he was trying to install the replacement twerger by feel, and it wasn't working.  He realized that the eyes could fit in the tube easily, and then he'd be able to "see" it all.  But he had to find a way to tell them where to go, and to keep them looking at the repair until he'd finished.  The eyes had a limited attention span, and were always drifting off after dust motes.

Xavier now had a near-perfect understanding of the air filtration system, but he needed something more.  How did you communicate with something that had no ears, and maybe even no brain? 

No, that wasn't right.  The things were flighty, but there was an intelligence there.  He tried sign language, since that was visual.

Signs meant nothing to an entity with no body.

Writing came next.  Again, beings with no corporeal presence had no way to develop a written language.  The eyeballs glanced at his message and drifted off after a dust mote.

With the ship drifting helplessly in space somewhere between the Horsehead Nebula and an unnamed star system he wanted to investigate, Xavier grew frustrated.

"Blast it all!" he exclaimed.  "How in space am I supposed to tell you what I want?"  His voice squeaked.  He wondered how long it had been since he'd spoken aloud.

The eyes turned to look at him.  And the answer appeared in his brain.

Just say it.

Unwilling to believe that the eyeballs had ears, Xavier tried an experiment first.  He thought back at them.  You know what I'm saying?

There was no response.  He said it aloud this time.

"You understand what I say?"

Of course.

Cheeky beggar.  "How can you--never mind now.  Let's fix this drive."  Years of talking to hallucinations had made it easy for him to adjust to the idea of talking to a pair of eyeballs.  He explained what he needed, and received the promise that it could be done.  The eyes disappeared down the repair shaft and an hour later the ship was up and running.

After that Xavier began to enjoy the eyes.  Not only did they give him "x-ray" insights into the bowels of the ship, but he enjoyed having someone to talk to.  In an odd sort of way they became friends.

It wasn’t until the eyes helped him through a second repair that he realized the truth.

The eyeballs were a part of the ship.  The part that prevented him from being stranded, because they not only could see all the places he needed to work, but they knew what needed to be done.

The eyeballs were a manifestation of the ship’s computer.  A computer that perhaps had grown as bored with the empty space between ports as he had.  Were they part of the original program?  He asked.


After a long, thoughtful silence, Xavier asked no further.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Photo Friday: Spring is Springing

 Since I'm still on The River (a designation subject to local interpretation. I'm in the Grand Canyon. On a raft. Probably not writing anything except inarticulate exclamations in my journal about the mind-blowing scenery), here are some random photos from spring in CA, which comes early and fades too fast into summer heat.

These were taken in February and March.

Almond trees

Magnolia tree with Christmas lights :)

Here's the magnolia tree in daylight.

Peach tree

Close-up of the delicate, promising peach blossom

This and the photo below are taken in Bidwell Park, Chico's amazing city park.

Yes, this is still within the city park! Indian Paintbrush is the latest--along with lupines--to burst into bloom in the Upper Park.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021


It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Read all about it here. Since I've transferred my insecurities for the time being to things like not falling out of a raft into the rapids and not stepping on a rattlesnake* while on shore, I'm sending you to read about the writing insecurities of my fellows!

*I'm not really very worried about this. The rapids, maybe. The snakes, meh. Rattlers give warning :)

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group day. Members post on our blogs, discussing our doubts and fears, struggles and triumphs. We visit each other and offer a word of encouragement for those who are struggling, or cheer for those with a success to celebrate. 

Today's the day--Let's rock the neurotic writing world! 

I'll see you in May!
Remember, writers--slow and steady and you'll get there in the end! (Endangered desert tortoise, Joshua Tree National Park)


Friday, April 2, 2021

Flashback Friday: Random Theories (2012)

Continuing my search through my earliest blog posts, I found this one from November, 2012, and it tickled my funny bone. In the intervening 9 years, the kids who wore me out have grown into wonderful adults who will carry some of my stuff if we are backpacking, but the issues with gravity have grown more troublesome.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Random Absurd Theories

Revisions are on track!  I've finished the first rewrite, aside from some typing.  Bouncing between that and my activities aimed at getting a bond measure passed for our suffering local schools has me exhausted but feeling like I'm at least doing something.

So, for amusement, I'll offer some of the random thoughts that occupy my brain at off moments.  Sometimes, just for fun, I like to invent absurd theories to explain things.  Here we find a few:

Pay the Gravity Bill  There's an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin discovers his Dad didn't pay the gravity bill, and he floats away.  Well, it turns out that after a certain age, if you forget to pay the gravity bill. . . they turn UP the gravity.  Way up.  This explains those days when working out is just torture.  You didn't pay the bill, you get to suffer.

Too Many Athletes in Colorado  The reason there isn't enough oxygen for a good run in Colorado is that there are too many athletes and they have sucked all the oxygen out of the air.

Kids' energy supplies  We figured this one out well over a decade back.  Kids have separate stores of energy for different things.  For hiking, one source, and not a very big one.  For playing: some other, nearly infinite, source.  You arrive in camp after a three-mile hike with your 8-year-old so exhausted he can't even set his pack down, has to drop it with a crash in the dirt.  Two minutes later he's running up a mountain in pursuit of whatever it is that kids run up mountains to pursue, and doesn't stop until you force him to.
Corollary:  Kids get their energy by sapping it directly from their parents.  Ask any mother of toddlers.

Today you're a dophin, tomorrow a sea slug  Okay, this one isn't a theory.  More of an observation.  It's based on my swimming workouts, but the same thing is true for any kind of workout.  When a swim goes really well, I say I'm a dolphin--swimming smoothly and easily and could go on forever (or at least for a mile).  But other days, I'm lucky if I'm a sea cow, ponderous but not ungraceful.  I'm just as apt to end up a developmentally-disabled sea slug, whose limbs (do sea slugs have limbs?  Never mind) pay no attention to commands from the brain (I don't think sea slugs have brains, either. This may be the problem).  Anyway, it's generally true that if on Wednesday I'm a dolphin, on Friday I'm nearly certain to be. . . something less desirable. 

For biking, I guess you could say that if on one ride I feel like the winner of the Tour (ha!), the next ride I could be ridden into the ground by an Edwardian spinster on a one-speed with a wicker basket and a giant hat.

All of this may be related to theory #1 about not paying the Gravity bill.  

Kids engaging Energy Source 2.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.